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How I Discovered Our Favorite Shows Warp Our Self-Image

Sara McGovern By Sara McGovern


It was the stealth mission of a lifetime.

Sort of. Armed with the first season of "Laguna Beach," a night of MTV, and some episodes of the "Simple Life," a good friend and I decided to spend the night with her younger sister and her friends.
The girls, all going into ninth grade, wished to remain anonymous. When they start their high school journey this fall, two of them will play soccer, one will play tennis, and the fourth, the group leader, will cheerlead. They've been friends since they were in third grade. They're all blonde, pretty girls. They all think they know everything.

We hunkered down for the night, and I explained to them that all I needed to do for my article was hang out with them for a few hours. Watch TV. Interact. I was looking to find what pop culture has been teaching young teens.

Lesson the first: Pop culture has been teaching teens to be hopelessly insecure. Halfway through the first episode of "Laguna Beach," I noticed that the girls were con-stantly comparing themselves to the girls on TV. The consen-sus was that none of them would ever be "that skinny" or "that pretty" or have "that hair." I was appalled by the constant lamenting of how these four beautiful girls would never quite measure up to the made up TV queens of MTV. The constant uttering of com-ments like, "no wonder my boyfriend broke up with me" and "my body is so depressing compared to hers" were dis-couraging to say the least.

Lesson the second:
Pop culture teaches girls that boys should be in control. As the drama unfolded in "Lagu-na," the girls seemed to agree that the cool girls were the ones who had dates or boyfriends. Their least favorite character on "Laguna" was Morgan, the one who wasn't dating anyone, or kissing any-one, or cheating on anyone. I asked the cheerleader what she thought about a boy on the show who was cheating on his girlfriend and all said was, "the other girl is prettier." Which brings us to...
Lesson the third: Pop culture wants you to be beautiful. As the night wore on, it became evident that les-son the third was the one that was the most deeply infiltrated into the brains of the 14 year olds I was spending time with. Looks are everything. When they weren't pointing out their flaws, they were picking apart the people on TV. They thought it was natural that the boys on the dating shows did-n't care about what the girls had to say. I was starting to fear that the girls didn't care what they had to say themselves, as long as they could appear at-tractive.

Lesson the fourth: Pop culture wants teens to spend money. Aside from your looks, the other way to be a de-sirable addition to society, ac-cording to MTV is to have money and expensive things. I asked the tennis player what she thought about the way the girls on "My Super Sweet Six-teen" treated their parents who financed their lavish parties. She shrugged and said, "Well, they deserve nice parties." From what I saw, the partici-pants featured on the show do not display any qualities to merit $10,000, other than that they have rich parents.

IS this what entertainment is teaching the youth of America? Is this the message that teenage girls are supposed to buy into? You'll never be pretty enough, you should let your life be dominated by boys, and that you'll be judged on your looks and money? If this is what younger teens are growing to be like, we have a serious problem.

We need to stop cultivating this culture of materialism and insecurity and start teaching teens confidence, independ-ence and to be interested in things other than boyfriends and Tiffany necklaces. So let's go, girls (and guys). It's time to turn off MTV and get interest-ed in something real.

Sara McGovern is a 2006 graduate of Governor Mifflin High School in Reading, PA. Her commentary appeared in the Reading Eagle on July 18, 2006.  Thanks to the Eagle and Ms. McGovern for giving us permission to reprint her editorial.